Trail Maintenance

“Happy trails to you, until we meet again.

Happy trails to you, keep smilin’ until then.”

–“Happy Trails,” Dale Evans Rogers

The average person walking along a beautiful tree-lined trail in a park is probably intent on enjoying the experience, giving little thought to the hard work and maintenance it takes to keep that trail passable.

But parks and rec maintenance pros know all too well that when it comes to trails, it’s all about maintenance.

The term “trail” can mean different things to different people. There can be a trail for casual walking, competitive running, motorized use, or equestrian activities—or in many cases, combinations of two or more of these.

Trails can range from paved, asphalt paths in planned communities to rugged hiking trails. Trails can be in a dense forest, or cross an

Whether in a dense forest or along a beach, all trails require maintenance.  Photo Courtesy Of Randy Gaddo

Whether in a dense forest or along a beach, all trails require maintenance.

Photo Courtesy Of Randy Gaddo

open plain, even traverse the arid desert sands, a beach, or a mountain. They can be limited in access or very accessible for those with limited mobility.

While each of these variations requires different maintenance, there are common issues.

“Every trail needs minimal maintenance, even if it’s laid out correctly and sustainably,” says John Favro, retired Regional Trails Coordinator for the U. S. Forest Service, Northern Region. He has been in the business for 40 years, and now consults nationally on trail construction and maintenance.

“I wouldn’t say any location or type of trail is more or less maintenance-intensive than any other,” notes Favro, who advocates proper construction and placement of trails to minimize maintenance. “I’d say it’s more how the trail is laid out; if a trail is placed where water can wash down without mitigating the erosion, there is going to be damage.”

While trails on mountains can wash away in heavy rain, those through low-lands can flood and be impassable with the same rain. Even a desert trail can disappear after a sand storm. Mother Nature will re-possess a trail seemingly overnight if it isn’t constantly maintained.

“There are two recurring issues in managing trails: one is natural erosion, and the other is manmade, when hikers create a ‘social’ trail by taking shortcuts from one point to another rather than staying on the designated trail,” comments Pam Young, Executive Director of Southern Conservation Trust (SCT), a non-profit that manages and protects more than 1,300 acres of land in and around Fayette County, Ga.

“In both cases, the trail has to be reworked and/or rerouted to address the issue,” Young says. “Social trails are planted with native materials to block it, while the appropriate trail is made more visible. The eroded trail must be evaluated for the source of erosion, then steps have to be taken to stop or reroute flows causing the erosion. Sometimes the trail has to be completely closed and planted with native materials; then a new trail is established where erosion will not be an issue.”

Managing Liability

Some parks and rec departments or other trail managers choose to

Signage is a good way to provide information, directions, or regulations. Photo Courtesy Of Randy Gaddo

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